News13 Jan 2000

USA Men Olympic Marathon Team selection


The U.S. Men’s Olympic Marathon Team Selection Process

13 January 2000 - Indianapolis - For the last 30 years, the United States Olympic marathon team has been decided using "self selection" in a single marathon trials race; in other words, the members of the Olympic Team were chosen in order of finish at one race, the Olympic Trials. In May of 1999, the IAAF tightened the Marathon "A" standard to 2:14. The tightening of the standard means that is possible that, for the first time in history, at the Men’s Olympic Trials in Pittsburgh on May 7, 2000, the winner may not have achieved the "A" standard.

In order to continue the long standing selection method of using one race to determine our Men’s Olympic Team, the following selection process will be used:

1. If the Olympic Trials winner has not achieved the "A" qualifying time between January 1, 1999 and May 7, 2000, he will be the only U. S. representative in the Olympic Games. Alternates will be selected in order of finish at the Olympic Trials race.

2. If the Olympic Trials winner has achieved the "A" qualifying time between January 1, 1999 and May 7, 2000, he will be named to the Olympic Team. Other members of the team, including alternates, will be selected from any other athletes who have achieved the "A" qualifier between January 1, 1999 and May 7, 2000, in order of their finish at the Olympic Trials race.

Facts and Considerations

There is and will continue to be animated discussion about the selection method for the men’s Olympic Marathon Team. In order to have a positive and informed exchange of views the USATF Men’s Long Distance Running Executive Committee has developed this fact sheet.

The selection of athletes to run in the Olympic Games is controlled by rules imposed by the IOC and the IAAF.

1. To be eligible to take part in an Olympic Games event an athlete must have achieved the "B" standard within the designated time period.

2. A maximum of 3 athletes may take part in an event only if each has achieved the "A" standard within the designated time period.

3. If there are no athletes who achieve the "A" standard then only one "B" standard athlete may take part in the games.

In determining the procedure for selecting the men’s marathon team, the Men’s LDR executive committee discussed and was guided by the following concepts:

While many countries choose their teams by the judgment of a selection committee, the long-standing tradition in the USA has been to determine that the team consists of the first three eligible athletes finishing a trials race. Over the years this policy has been reviewed many times but has survived as the least controversial method. This method was adopted for the selection of the 2000 marathon team well before the IAAF raised the standards and shrunk the designated period.

The use of previous performances as predictors of future performance is much less dependable in the marathon than in shorter track events. The fact that an athlete may have run a fast time in December (or on some other occasion) does not mean that he/she is more likely to do better in the Olympic Games than an athlete who beats him/her in the trials even if the time of the trials winner is slower. Course terrain, temperature and wind all aid or obstruct the athlete’s effort and enhance or diminish the resulting performance.

While a victory in the trials may not indicate a greater probability for a good Olympic result than the fast performance in December, the trials winner will have actually beaten everybody else in the designated selection race on the same course and under the same conditions.

Since the sport became professional with introduction of prize money the requirements of athletes and events have had to be balanced with the promotional and marketing requirements of corporate sponsors who pay the bills. There is no motivation for a sponsor to spend the kind of money which enables the payment of $250,000 in prizes unless it can be assured that the selected Olympians will be the leading performers at the trials. Therefore the notion that the team may be selected, even in part, by a process alternative to the trials would likely result in a reduction or even a withdrawal of money from most if not all sponsors.

With these considerations in mind the committee reviewed a number of different scenarios.

1. The winner of the trials achieves the "A" standard at or before the trials in which case the winner plus next 1 or 2 highest eligible finishers comprise the team.

2. The winner of the trials has not achieved the "A" standard at or before the trials in which case he is the only team member. While this seems unfortunate for those who have "A" standard performances, it must be remembered that on the day of the trials, they will not have been good enough to beat the winner. To select them and drop the winner would ignore this fact and defeat the concept that the team is selected based on trials race performance. The time-tested policy that trials provides an automatic selection mechanism will have been replaced by selection based on judgment and the sponsor will have been denied what they paid for - the publicity and prestige of a trials race.

3. The press and public could be outraged if runners with faster previous performances are left off the team in favor of an apparently slower runner.

It was recognized that the public is familiar with the notion that championships are decided by performance in a specifically designated event, rather than by some system of performance judgment and prediction. Therefore outrage seems more probable if the winner is excluded in favor of a second or even lower placing finisher/s with a faster previous performance.

Copyright © 2000 Running USA

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